Barrio Cafe (Phoenix Airport)

If there’s one place in Phoenix that friends are consistently telling me I should visit, it’s Barrio Cafe. Opened back in 2002, Barrio showcases the work of chef Silvana Salcido Esparza, who has gotten quite a following for doing upscale Mexican-American cuisine. Well, I still haven’t made it to Barrio, but I have made it to a close cousin: there’s an offshoot of Barrio Cafe in Terminal 4 at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. A combination of weather and equipment issues had me with first a very-delayed, and then a canceled, flight, so I had more than a few hours to wander over to Barrio Cafe in Concourse D (the newest one at PHX, which has substantially more space dedicated to food than the other concourses), so I sit back and had a nice dinner at Barrio Cafe, Airport Edition.

So yeah, I’m reviewing another airport place. I’m sure there are some exceptions, but my first rule of airport dining is “low expectations”. But a simple look at the menu showed me that Barrio Cafe is serving up some nicely elevated Mexican fare. This isn’t your typical “burrito and taco” joint like most airport Mexican joints, but instead having real, well-composed entrees like pollo en mole, chiles en nogada (basically, an improved version of a relleno with a filling of chicken, apple, pear, apricot, and pecans), or Puerco Tamarindo. So they’ll got a good selection of well-composed, inventive dishes that really showcase Mexican ingredients more than your usual burrito.

And unlike all those other airport options, most of which serve up watered-down, pre-mixed margaritas, Barrio has a nice selection of custom-crafted margaritas, including the Barrio Bomba (Patron, Cointreau, pineapple, grenadine, and lime), or the La Picocita (Chinaco Silver Tequila infused with chile de arbol pepper). I’m always a bit of a sucker for a well-done pepper-based margarita, so I opted for the La Picocita, which was nicely done, having a nice roasted, wepepper taste while not being spicy enough to overwhelm the lime and tequila. Overall, a good cocktail, and at a reasonable-for-an-airport price of $13.

For my main course, I went with one of Barrio’s showcase entrees, the Cochinita Pibil. Achiote- and sour orange marinated-pork, slow roasted, and topped with pickled red onion and pico de gallo. I really liked this combination: the pork itself was nicely tender shreds of pork, having been roasted in leaves to the point of falling apart. The pico and picked onions gave some nice tangy and acid notes that complemented the pork, and the whole dish was served up with some roasted vegetables over a nicely garlicky and spiced bed of mashed potatoes. A bit pricey at $23.50, but this was probably one of the best airport meals I’ve had in a while.

While I’m sure the airport version of Barrio pales next to the real mid-town location (which I promise I’ll visit on one of my trips), this is definitely a case of an airport dining option that’s head and shoulders above the usual airport options. Along with having a Cartel Coffee Lab location two concourses over, Barrio has made my Phoenix airport travels a bit more pleasant.

Anyone else have some better-than-expected airport gems?

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